Tracking Success for Small Businesses (Part One)

I spend more and more of my time working with people to help them understand what “success looks like” with regards to marketing performance – and so should you.

Where the most resistance to building a robust method of tracking success is often within smaller businesses, which can be for one of the following reasons:

  • Budget – Can’t afford the expertise
  • Knowledge – Aren’t aware it’s possible
  • Skill – Can’t get it to work
  • Inclination – There are more important things to tend to

Whatever the reason may be, if you’re trying to grow a business you need to be able to see what is/isn’t working.

Many business owners run on intuition, a gut feeling or maybe anecdotal findings – which can work – but this can really limit anyone looking to see a return in what the invest in it.

For those more experienced in tracking/web analytics there’s a feeling that if you don’t track it, it doesn’t happen. Whilst I don’t believe 100% in this, if you don’t understand the challenge or where the problem lies, fixing it is going to be needlessly tough.

This guide is designed primarily to give those who are relatively inexperienced with tracking a starting point, to help develop an understanding into the different methods, why they’re important, and how to go about getting things moving.

What this guide isn’t is a foolproof guide to get everyone flying irrespective of their website(s) and prior knowledge. This assumes a basic level of knowledge and that if you’re not able to make the changes needed, you’ll know someone who does.

It’s fairly lengthy, but if you’re struggling to make a dent online, or performance is dropping – but don’t know how, why or where – you’ll likely pick up some information here that’ll be useful.

Good Google Analytics setup

What: Google Analytics is de facto standard for web analytics (user tracking) online. Trusted by millions and free, it’ll be one of your most important tools if it isn’t already. But getting a good setup is beyond making sure it just “works”, it’s ensuring that you’re tracking the things you need to from the start.

Importance: High

Difficulty: Low (for a basic setup), but Medium if you’re inexperienced with GA and what to get it right.

Why?: Without web analytics installed on your website you are effectively blind to what is happening on your site. If you’re serious about the part your website plays in your business you need tracking. Simple.

How?: Creating a Google Analytics account is free & installing Analytics on your site is a relatively simple task, but doing so assumes a few things:

  • You have access to either your website’s files or Content Management System
  • You understand enough about HTML to installed the tracking code, Or;
  • You can find a compatible plugin which does the hard work for you

There are two ways you’re likely to install Analytics by, either via their Universal Analytics code (what I’d consider the “standard” implementation) or via Tag Manager.

Despite the growing number of Google Tag Manager (GTM) advocates out there – I’m one of them – once installed it gives non-developers far more control to add tracking (and other things) to your websites in a way you’ve never been able. But GTM can be another beast entirely, and anyone who says you can’t achieve a decent tracking setup with it is likely misleading you.

Assuming that GTM is a bridge too far at present, the following checklist is what I’d consider to be minimum for a “Good” setup:

  1. Universal Analytics Code Installed
    1. This is the most basic code implementation, just copy + paste the code provided before the closing </head> tag on your website.
    2. The following links are to plugins/functionality which can make this easier for the main CMSs out there:
      1. Google Analytics for WordPress
      2. Google Analytics for Magento
      3. Google Analytics for Drupal
      4. Google Analytics for Joomla
  2. Create Two Views – an unfiltered view & a filtered view
    1. The unfiltered view will contain all your raw data – very important that every GA account has this
    2. The filtered view has an IP exclude filter (to block your own traffic from showing), & bot traffic filters
    3. Note: Google suggests a 3rd “testing” view – this is useful, but for the purposes of this I’d say it’s not 100% needed
    4. How to setup a filtered view – https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/1034823?hl=en#create_a_filter_at_the_view_level
  3. Site search tracking
    1. To ensure that any search boxes on the site are tracked – helps you measure how people use the site search.
    2. How to setup site search tracking – https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/1012264?hl=en
  4. Goal Tracking
    1. A way to track the major achievements of visitors, i.e. submitting a contact form, signing up to a mailing list, making a purchase etc
    2. Setting up goal tracking can, itself be a challenge, first you need to ensure that you’ve selected how you’re doing this. The following links are some of the most frequently used methods in my experience.
      1. Destination conversion – ‘Thank you Page’
      2. Event trigger – WordPress – Contact Form 7
      3. Essential Goal Tracking
  5. Ecommerce Tracking
    1. If you’re website will be selling products, eCommerce tracking is vital, as with goal tracking this can be a challenge, but here are some common setups:
      1. WordPress/WooCommerce
      2. Magento
      3. Shopify
  6. Referral Spam filtering
    1. Spammy or noisy data is becoming a bit of a problem in GA, but it’s not too difficult to get on top of. If you want to read more into it you can – here.
    2. This link is the advanced segment

This setup will mean that you are able to see what is taking place on your site and understand the engagements which impact your business the most.

To get things moving, the following pre-made reporting dashboards are some of the most important for your business – but don’t let these from stopping you click around and experimenting yourself.

If you wanted a kickstart here are some downloadable dashboard examples – http://www.onlinemediamasters.com/google-analytics-custom-dashboard-examples/

Campaign Tracking (Online)

What: Campaign tracking is one of the simplest, yet most often forgotten pieces of tracking you can add to your online campaigns. They are extra pieces of information which can help Google Analytics identify where the traffic is coming from.

Importance: Medium

Difficulty: Easy

Why?: Google Analytics Campaign tracking helps you attribute success to specific activity (campaigns) online, whether it is social media, email, Google My Business & more.

How?: The easiest way to set up campaign tracking on links is to use Google’s own tool which can be found here. What stumps most people is what exactly to add into campaign tracking – and what it signifies.

So the following link is an example of campaign tracking added to a URL:

http://www.stateofdigital.com/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=jan_2017&utm_content=ad_1

When we break it into the component parts:

  • http://www.stateofdigital.com/ – The page URL, i.e. the content you want people to find –
  • utm_source=facebook – The source of the traffic, where it’s coming from
  • utm_medium=cpc – What type of traffic, cpc (cost per click), email etc
  • utm_campaign=jan_2017 – The name of your campaign
  • utm_content=ad_1 – The difference in specific ads within a campaign

Note – there’s a “utm_term” parameter where you add keywords into, although in my experience you’ll less often need this.

You can do this much more quickly using Excel or Google Sheets – this sheet is something like I use when I have a number of URLs to add tracking to, it speeds things up a lot (please take a copy of it before editing).

Once you have your links you can quite easily copy + paste this information into wherever you need it. For example, if you’re sending an email and you want to track when people are clicking through that link, adding campaign tracking is essential.

Note: if you’re using software like MailChimp to send from they can add this information automatically.

If you’re thinking that these links look ugly or just too long for your needs, you can shrink them using any Good URL shortener service:

Final thing to note here some CPC services like Adwords can provide automatic campaign tagging, I would strongly suggest this wherever possible as it reduces the margin for error!

If you want to ensure that campaign tracking works for you, you need to do the following:

  1. Only track what is needed – every single social media post is overkill for example
  2. Any paid traffic MUST be tagged, otherwise you’ll find it much harder to establish what this traffic has done
  3. Everyone who posts online for you needs to be onboard, inconsistent tagging/tracking is almost as bad as none at all

Campaign Tracking (Offline)

What: Similar above with campaign tracking, but this is how you’ll be able to implement these techniques offline to join the dots. In this instance it could be advertising on posters, brochures, newspapers etc.

Importance: Medium

Difficulty: High

Why?: One of the largest parts of marketing spend which struggles to provide a true indication of ROI is “offline” marketing – this is because your primary method of tracking traffic and conversions (Google Analytics) can’t “see” them take place.

You’ll unlikely ever be able to join the dots fully, but if you’re able to attribute even a small portion of traffic/leads/sales to your offline campaigns it’s easier to understand what is/isn’t working.

How?: There are many ways that you could end up tracking offline campaigns against web traffic – but some are pretty sophisticated or overly complex. Below are some of the easier ones to implement. They’re not perfect and you’ll need to weigh up the importance of doing this against any possible costs of doing so.

Tracking URLs – Not to be mistaken as campaign tracking URLs, although very similar, you can use unique tracking URLs on offline material (printed media etc) to see how many people have responded to it.

For example, if you’ve placed an exclusive discount in a magazine or local paper, you could create a unique URL for it.

E.g. www.mywebsite.co.uk/50-off

Then, you’ll need to employ a small amount of technical trickery to ensure this is trackable – a 302 redirect.

There are many ways of adding redirects to your site, I can’t hope to hit them all here however. If I was a betting man, I’d assume that a link to this wordpress plugin will most likely be of use to most people.

However you implement this, what you need to do with the redirect is really simple. Redirect the tracking URL to the new destination URL.

So www.mywebsite.co.uk/50-off

302’s (temporary) redirects to:

www.mywebsite.co.uk/50-off-local-paper?utm_source=local_paper&utm_campaign=50_off&utm_medium=print&utm_content=full_page

What happens here is that when someone types in the tracking URL into a browser (on a phone or on desktop) the website them redirects them to the actual page and attaches the campaign tracking information to it.

This can be a little convoluted to set up, but it’s a good way to get a feel for how many people are actually visiting the page from the ad. You do need to be aware that the longer you make the URL the more you could impact the chances of people typing it in.

The key here is to make the offer/incentive worthwhile too!

Discount Codes – Perhaps the most simple of the options here, but this one is equally overlooked in my experience.

When you outline what your promotion or discount is, ensure that the way someone needs to verify it is to provide or quote a discount code when they get in touch in order to obtain the offer.

One thing to note here is that this method will unlikely tie into Google Analytics as well as the other options. If you’re running an online shop this code could be input in at the checkout for example, whilst you’ll know how the customer found you, tying the analytics data against their actions can be trickier – the same can be said for codes quoted in contact forms or over the phone.

What is key here, like much else in offline tracking is that you’ll be closer to working out how much business has been driven by a specific piece of ad media. I.e. at the end of the month we can see that 14 magazine discount codes where used at the checkout, which delivered £x,xxx worth of sales.

QR Codes – QR Codes are a type of barcode which, when scanned by a smartphone can open a webpage, download an app or drive a specific action. You’ll most likely have seen these on posters, in magazines etc – but more recently Facebook messenger and Snapchat have been using similar technology, which means it may find its way back into the marketing mix again.

Whether you agree as to their relevance, these are still a very easy way of establishing who’s looking at your offline content and making the way through to online.

Take the following code I’ve built, for example – if you scan it with a barcode reader, not only will it take you to the website I’ve told it to, I’ll be able to track it.

If I’d owned the target site of this link I could combine the above step with the campaign tracking so that when people scanned the code. (Note: if I didn’t own the site or have access to the Google Analytics the campaign tracking data will be unavailable to me).

As I don’t own the site, I’ve instead created the above code from a Bitly link. If you add a ‘+’ to the end of any Bitly link, it lets you view the stats.

For those who are curious, the following link will tell you who’s used the QR Code https://bitly.com/2lihE2t+

When/if you do consider QR Codes just be conscious of your target audience and where they’re likely to be when they’re engaging with it. I.e. if you’re advertising on the posters along the escalators on the underground, you’re audience are going to be continuously moving – not QR friendly!

More in Part Two

So that’s more than enough for now, check back soon to see Part Two.

If you have any tracking-based questions, drop a comment in below or come find me on twitter.

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Chris Green

About Chris Green

Chris Green is Head of Marketing at StrategiQ, a full-service marketing agency based in the East of England.